Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune disease that affects the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12, leading to a deficiency in this nutrient. If left untreated, pernicious anemia can cause several health complications, including nerve damage, cognitive decline, and an increased risk of certain cancers.
Read on to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and potential complications of pernicious anemia and ways to prevent and manage the disease.
What is Pernicious Anemia?
Pernicious anemia is a type of anemia, which is condition characterized by a lack of red blood cells. Red blood cells are essential for transporting oxygen to the body’s tissues. In pernicious anemia, the body cannot absorb vitamin B12, which is needed to produce healthy red blood cells.
Furthermore, the autoimmune process in pernicious anemia causes the destruction of cells in the stomach that produce an intrinsic factor protein. This protein is necessary for the proper absorption of vitamin B12. As a result, people with pernicious anemia have a deficiency in vitamin B12, which leads to the development of anemia.
Symptoms of Pernicious Anemia
The symptoms of pernicious anemia can range from mild to severe and develop gradually over time. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heartbeat
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Sore tongue
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Causes of Pernicious Anemia
Importantly, unlike macrocytic anemia, pernicious anemia is caused by an autoimmune process in which the body attacks and destroys cells in the stomach that produce intrinsic factors. The exact cause of this autoimmune process is unknown, but it is believed to be related to genetics and environmental factors, such as an infection.
Risk Factors for Pernicious Anemia
There are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing pernicious anemia. Some of the most common risk factors include:
- Age: Pernicious anemia is more common in people over the age of 60.
- Family history: People with a family history of pernicious anemia are more likely to develop the disease.
- Race: Pernicious anemia is more common in people of Northern European descent.
- Smoking: Smoking can increase the risk of developing pernicious anemia.
Potential Complications of Pernicious Anemia
If left untreated, pernicious anemia can lead to several health complications, including:
- Nerve damage: A lack of vitamin B12 can cause damage to the nerves in the body, leading to numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness.
- Cognitive decline: Vitamin B12 is essential for brain function, and a deficiency can lead to memory loss, confusion, and mood changes.
- Increased risk of certain cancers: The same as normocytic anemia, pernicious anemia has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, including colon, prostate, and breast cancer.
Prevention and Management of Pernicious Anemia
Early diagnosis and treatment of pernicious anemia are essential in preventing the potential complications associated with the disease. The following steps can help prevent and manage pernicious anemia:
- Vitamin B12 supplementation: Vitamin B12 injections or high-dose oral supplements are the primary treatment for pernicious anemia. This helps to replace the missing vitamin B12 and prevent further complications.
- Healthy diet: Eating a balanced diet that includes foods rich in vitamin B12, such as meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products, can help prevent and manage pernicious anemia.
- Avoid alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can interfere with the absorption of vitamin B12, so it is crucial to limit or avoid alcohol if you have pernicious anemia.
- Stop smoking: Smoking can increase the risk of developing pernicious anemia and worsen the symptoms. Quitting smoking can help prevent and manage pernicious anemia.
- Regular check-ups: Regular check-ups with your healthcare provider can help monitor the progression of the disease and adjust treatment as needed.
- Avoiding stress: Stress can affect the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12; hence, stress must be managed through techniques such as meditation, exercise, or therapy.
- Monitoring for complications: Regular monitoring for potential complications, such as nerve damage or cognitive decline, can help prevent long-term damage and maintain overall health.